Archive for the Personal Category

My advice for new parents

My daughter is now three years old and she’s amazing. Naturally I now know everything there is to know about parenting so here’s my advice for new parents (particularly aimed at affluent middle-class fathers in NZ who have two cats).

The first three months are the hardest, followed by the next three months. The three months after that were also hard but then it started to get easier and more enjoyable. (Even if it was still a lot of work.) I’m writing this just after my daughter turned three – she’s still hard work but I adore her absolutely and we have quite a lot of fun together.

It doesn’t matter how you feel about becoming a father or whether you wanted the baby or not. Decide now to commit to doing the best job you can and being the best father you can be. Any of the alternatives aren’t going to be good for anyone.

You will never go back to your “normal life”. This is your normal life, embrace it.

Go to the ante-natal classes. Go to the breastfeeding course. Yes, both of you.

Forgive your partner already and ask for their forgiveness in turn. I see that relationships are built on loving reciprocity. You do something for your partner because you love them, they feel even more warmly to you and do things for you because they love you. It’s a beautiful spiral of loving caring – and the introduction of a young baby screws it up pretty badly. You’re both exhausted and have very little time to look after each other and little energy to give. But you’re both doing your best and there’ll be time in the future to reconnect. That said, give your partner what you can when you can.

Don’t worry if you don’t get an instant hit of love and adoration when your child is born. It was pretty amazing on a number of levels but for me the bonding process took time. That said – make sure you’re leaving yourself open to it. Don’t let the sleeplessness and hard work turn you resentful and closed.

Get stuck in – don’t let your uncertainty or doubt hold you back from doing everything that your child requires. We all had to change our first nappy or give our first bath. Don’t let anyone else disenfranchise you by doing someone on your behalf that you can do perfectly well yourself. Don’t be the father who doesn’t want to be left alone with his own child because he’s too scared to care for them.

Question what you think you know. You probably have all sorts of ideas on how kids should be raised based on what your parents did, what your friends do and that half-remembered show you saw on TV. Do your whole family a favour and do some reading about the best way to bring up a kid. In particular learn about what real normal child development looks like (bad news: “sleeping through the night” doesn’t happen as soon or as consistently as you’d like). This article does a reasonable job of summing up the views I came to about raising a happy and healthy child.

I said it was hard work, right? Get in there and do the housework and the shopping and the errand running and taking the baby out for a walk so its mum can get just a couple of hours sleep. No matter how hard you work it probably won’t be as tough as it is for the mum who’s staying up most of the night breast-feeding the baby to sleep.

Your baby won’t give a shit about whether it has a beautiful nursery.

Non-specialist doctors and pharmacists are generally pretty ignorant about pregnancy, infants and breast-feeding. Do your own research – but make sure it’s from reputable websites that are backed by the best and latest in medical science. Bookmark for great evidence-based information about the care and feeding of babies and their mothers.

Using a clip-on bed is a good compromise between using a cot and having the baby in bed with you. This is where you have a separate sleeping surface for the baby attached to your bed so that you can both care for the baby in the night without having to get up. Our daughter went from the clip-on bed straight to her own bed without any problems at about 14 months. Her bed is a double mattress on a base and it’s been absolutely brilliant. It means that either of us can sleep with her on her bed if we ever need to (it also fits the two cats as well).

Get a tablet computer with good battery life for those long nights where that damn baby just won’t sleep unless it’s on someone. Block access to Trade Me if your budget won’t allow it.

Don’t let your duties (paid work, housework, maintenance, etc) take away from your time spent at home looking after your child and supporting your partner. It can be tempting to avoid the stress at home by saying “Oh, I need to do this” but your #1 priority at this time should be your family.

You need a lot less stuff than the glossy brochures would tell you that you need. And do you really need a baby buggy at all? We never really used them, preferring front-packs and back-packs and good old fashioned carrying.

Parent the child you have. Keep an eye on the expected milestones but ultimately you have to care for your child as it is, not the ideal child you have in your head, not your friend’s child, and not what some book has told you to expect.

Parenting is hard work but the first time you get a big cuddle and an “I love you Daddy” from your child – oh. my. god.


The Fish’n’Chip Diet

Fat and Slim

I was fat from about age 10 to about age 26. It made me unhappy in a number of ways; buying clothes, avoiding swimming in public or just failing to laugh much at the man-boob jokes. I came to think of myself as a fat person, that there was no way I would ever be anything else.

Then I lost a lot of weight. I dropped from ~115kg to 75kg in the space of six months. More importantly, after bouncing back to 80kg I managed to stay at roughly that weight for well over ten years.

Recently I found that my weight was creeping up again and I decided that I had to do something about it. I’d got to 89kg and I decided that I wanted to lose 10kg – and that if I was successful I’d finally write that article about weight loss that I’d been planning.

Easy and Hard

There’s a funny contradiction involved when it comes to losing weight:

  1. Weight loss is actually reasonably easy. Eat less and maybe do a bit of exercise and you’ll lose weight.
  2. Weight loss is incredibly hard. Most diets are abandoned, many dieters yo-yo and end up weighing more than they started, long term weight loss seems particularly hard to achieve.

The problem is that deciding to lose weight isn’t a single decision. Sure, you can get up in the morning and say to yourself “From now on I’m going to eat better and be more healthy”.  But we all know that while this might last for a day, a week, or even just a few hours, generally you’ll start to slip back into your old habits.

The problem with weight loss, and what makes it so incredibly hard, is that it’s not one decision but hundreds and thousands of decisions. Yes to porridge for breakfast. No to the slice of birthday cake at morning tea. Yes to sushi for lunch. No to pizza for dinner. Yes to a cup of tea in the evening. No to the biscuits to dunk in the tea. Day after day after day.

The Trick

So, I reckon you need a trick. Or maybe more than one. What do I mean by a trick?

The time I lost a lot of weight didn’t start as a diet, it was just an experiment in a line of experiments.

I’d tried going saltless for a couple of weeks and found that I enjoyed many foods without additional salt. I fasted for three days just to see what it felt like (oddly, it gets easier). I even had a week of eating nothing but spaghetti with tomato chutney sauce and cheese.

I had read that you could reset your appetite so my next experiment would be to have three small meals a day – and nothing else. Just to see what it was like. Looking back on it now, I honestly can’t remember how much I had fooled myself about this not being an attempt to lose weight.

I didn’t weigh myself to start, nor did I weigh myself as I went (I didn’t own any scales). Instead I just started following this eating regime – and I found that I quite quickly started to lose weight.

So the trick in this case was that I wasn’t dieting at all, I was performing experiments on myself. Totally different. Best of all, it meant that I couldn’t indulge in the self-destructive behaviour of wanting to rebel against my own decision, something I still hadn’t grown out of at the time.


I’m not sure if that particular trick could have got me all the way, particularly as the weight started to come off and I could no longer fool myself that losing weight wasn’t the point of what I was doing. Somehow I managed to transition to a second trick – I got really, really obsessive.

  • I refused all food outside the three meals a day I allowed myself. While I tried to be polite about it, that meant being completely ruthless about turning down celebration food (birthday cakes, etc), gift food (box of chocolates) or even just social food (cake at a café with a friend). Sometimes I let people assume I was allergic or had some other nameless health issue that prevented me from eating with them.
  • I thought about food a lot – what I’d eaten, what I was eating, what I was going to eat, whether it would be acceptable or not.
  • I learnt to enjoy the sensation of hunger and saw it as a sign that I was winning and in control of my body and myself.

This is probably setting off little warning bells in anyone familiar with eating disorders. Looking back on it, I think I managed to give myself a weird form of anorexia nervosa, with the main difference being that I actually was quite overweight. I also think that maybe I was just a bit lucky that I managed to stop when I did.

Other Tricks

Those are two tricks that worked for me. I’m sure there are plenty of other tricks that people have used to help themselves make those hundreds and thousands of decisions that result in a successful diet.

I used a different trick entirely when I lost my 10kg recently. The experiment trick was a once-off, and I’m not sure you can be obsessive enough while living with someone. Instead I went for something else that works for me – number-chasing.

I signed up for a calorie-counter site called It calculated my daily energy requirements, I entered all the food I ate each day, and the site told me how well I was doing.

It’s not a great site in many ways, but the combination of number-chasing and being able to see exactly how much they were going to blow out if I bought that piece of carrot cake was often enough to help me make the decision to have an apple instead.

Appetite and the Fish’n’Chip Diet

But why the Fish’n’Chip Diet?

One of the important things I learnt is that weight loss is all about eating less. Exercise will only get you so far, and it seems that eating a lot of ‘good’ food is just as good a way of putting on weight as eating a lot of ‘bad’ food.

So I didn’t really change what I ate – I just changed how much I ate of it. This meant that I didn’t have to give up anything including my beloved fish’n’chips. On the other hand, I did have to change my regular order from 1 fish, 1 sausage, 1 potato fritter and a scoop of chips to 1 fish and half a scoop of chips.

Now, you may think that sounds ridiculously small but there’s good news too. My experiment to reduce my appetite was entirely successful. If you eat smaller quantities for a while your stomach will eventually reset itself. The thought of eating my old regular f’n’c order now makes me feel just a bit sick.

The Nitty Gritty

There are lots of diets out there. I suspect that most of them work – for a few people. The above is what worked for me but I wouldn’t claim it would work for everyone. That said, here’s a summary of what I’ve learnt that I reckon might be generally applicable:

  • You can lose weight. You don’t have to be fat.
  • It’s about portion control. The amount you eat is more important than what you eat.
  • You can reset your appetite so that smaller meals will make you feel sated. I reckon it took me about two weeks to reset mine… but it’s very easy to creep it up again.
  • You need a trick or two. Something that will help you keep making those correct decisions.
  • Feeling hungry when you’re still getting enough to eat isn’t really so bad.
  • You don’t need to weigh yourself regularly to lose weight. Do it if it works for you.

And one final note: if you’re happy and healthy at your current weight I reckon you’re doing better than most people and should leave well enough alone.

Strange Data Collection Method

I was taken aback by what I found in my post box today – a letter asking me to complete a survey about my respiratory health. The Medical Research Institute tells me that (link to scan of letter (PDF)):

You have been randomly selected from the electoral roll to participate in the first phase which involves completing the questionnaire on the other side of this letter.

Personally I thought that it was illegal to use the Electoral Roll for any purpose other than elections, but it seems that there is an exception for approved scientific/health researchers.

I’d be surprised if the response rate was very high or very representative.

And no, I didn’t fill it out. Feel free to use the code and URL on the letter to go and answer it for me.

My New Laptop

(This is another in my series of posts where I record my current feelings about technology in order to have something to laugh at in five years time. See also What I Use and Market Calibration.)

I’m getting urges for a new laptop again.

The main requirements when I got this laptop (Compaq 2510p) were:

  • Small and light-weight (it’s 1.4kg)
  • Long battery life (~6 hours)
  • Runs Windows well (it’s part of my job)

The Compaq has worked pretty well for me but my biases are changing. My new requirements are:

  • Relatively lightweight (but not so worried about small any more)
  • Backlit keyboard (I do quite a lot of writing at night but I don’t touchtype. A backlit keyboard would make both Kim and me happier.)
  • High resolution screen (at least higher than the current 1280×800)
  • Well over four hours useful battery life (i.e. I might accept four but I really want more)
  • I’d still choose battery life over performance and I’d prefer it not to have an optical drive to save weight.

And while it’s not necessary, I suspect that any laptop that meets those criteria will have one of the much cooler solid-state hard drives. They’re lighter and use less battery, plus they have no moving parts so they’re more reliable.

When it comes to the operating system, while I’d like to have a proper go using Mac OSX, Windows 7 fulfils most of my requirements and is more appropriate to my job.

Finally, it’d be nice if it looked kind of stylish, maybe even with a bit of colour.


I recently had a play on a Dell Latitude Z600 and I have to admit it was pretty good even though it was much bigger than anything I’ve considered before. It’s thin and surprisingly light for its size. Sadly, while the 16″ screen at 1600×900 has more pixels than my current screen, you’d think they could have increased it even more. Unfortunately it costs an ungodly amount of money and I believe the battery life is apparently atrocious.

The HP Envy 13 also looks pretty good. Stylish, good screen (1600×900 is acceptable on a 13″ screen), good battery life – but no backlit keyboard.

Dell have just put out the Vostro V13 at a good price but I really don’t want to stay with a standard res screen and no keyboard backlight.

The Sony Z is rather cool. 13″ screen at 1600×900, good battery life, backlit keyboard… why not? Sadly I have absolute faith in Sony’s ability to screw it up by filling it full of crap software and failing to provide good hardware drivers. It’s a pity because otherwise I think it might be the winner.

When it comes to the Apple range, the MacBook Pro 13″ is rather nice (and the price recently dropped). It fulfils most of my requirements (except screen resolution) but the styling is looking a bit dated and I don’t trust Apple to do a good job of releasing drivers that will allow Windows 7 to work to its full potential.

As normal, I find myself wishing I could cut’n’paste features from multiple models so that I could end up with the perfect laptop!

Late addition

I ended up with the Sony Vaio Z (the high-end version with a 1920×1080 screen, 8GB memory, 256GB SSD, etc). It’s a very nice laptop but my fears that Sony would do their best to screw it up were not unfounded. It came with 9 ugly stickers as well as a whole load of badly written Sony software pre-installed. Luckily that could all be cleaned up and I’m really very happy with it.

A Status Update

Well, my blog has well and truly been taken over by Internet filtering. Things have been a bit quiet recently, so here’s an update:

  • I’m still waiting for the Ombudsman’s report on whether I can have access to the list of filtered sites.
  • I haven’t heard from Archives about the DIA deleting their records.
  • I have been persuaded to spell Internet with a capital I even though I prefer to be a little more avant garde.
  • I’m part of the Internet NZ working group developing policy on Internet filtering.
  • I’m working on collecting more information (still no response from the Maori or Act parties, waiting to hear from ISPs, have more questions to send to the DIA and the Censor).

So, what’s next? I’m thinking a lot about how to continue the campaign against Internet filtering, while also considering some of the larger issues that this raises about protecting the civil liberties of Internet users. Email me if you’ve got any ideas or what to help.

My Technology : Point in Time

The other day I was reflecting on the multitude of technological tools and services I use in the course of my day to day life. Some that seem vital to me today (e.g. Gmail) didn’t even exist a few years ago, while others that were so important to my life in the past (e.g. Usenet) I haven’t with bothered with for ages.

I thought it might be interesting to record what tools I currently use and how I use them. Ideally I could update it every year or so and thereby create a personal technological timeline.

And my first thought on looking at it? “Gosh that’s a long list.”
Continue Reading “My Technology : Point in Time” »


So, as part of signing up for a new job I’m also signing up for KiwiSaver. I’ve managed to put off learning about this for a while now but last night I finally put the time in to do a bit more reading. I knew the scheme is reputed to be generous and is generally seen to be well worth it for the individual but I needed to choose a provider and a scheme.

As my government-enforced retirement age of 65 is some years off I have chosen a growth-oriented scheme with a concentration in the share market. My understanding is that, over the long term, share markets have historically given the best returns. Of course this won’t go so well if we have an economic collapse triggered by climate change or runaway gray-goo or whatever and slide into a post-technological world – but my retirement plans are going to be in trouble if that happens anyway.

More importantly, I have chosen a ‘passive’ fund. This is one where they don’t have smart managers who wheel and deal to choose the best stocks/investments at any given time. Instead they just invest in shares/securities so that the fund tracks well-known indexes like the NZX 50. Therefore if the stock market as a whole goes up you’re winning, and vice-versa. It’s easier to manage so fees are a lot less.

Now, the interesting thing about ‘dumb’ passive funds is that they typically out-perform the ‘smart’ active funds. All that wheeling and dealing costs money (in transaction and management costs) and any increased returns are typically eaten by that. Indeed, I seem to recall that actively managed funds typically perform worse than passive funds, even *before* transaction and management costs are taken into account. Most people aren’t Warren Buffett and are apparently pretty crap at investing. Of course, the managers still get paid their lovely salaries so at least they’re happy about it.

The only major flaw in KiwiSaver (from my selfish perspective) is that the government doesn’t guarantee the investments – but also doesn’t let you spread your risk by splitting your KiwiSaver contributions between 2 or more companies. So, it looks like all my eggs will be going into the scheme run by the ASB.

Civilly Unioned Bliss

According to Statistics NZ, there were 21,500 resident couples who married last year while another 316 chose a civil union (103 male/male, 150 female/female and 63 male/female).

Those damn marriages are still winning!

Two Sort-of Animated Movies

Recently I have seen two semi-animated films for the second time – Sin City and Waking Life.

Waking Life is the sort of movie that makes me feel inarticulate just because everyone in it talks so damn much. As normal it has given me an urge to read some more philosophy, possibly starting with existentialism.

Sin City is great – I love the visual style and the brutal relentlessness of its pastiche of a script. Somehow it takes our shared understanding of the cliches of the 30s noir gangster movies, turns them all up to 11 and then adds a dash of eternal champion.

Next will be A Scanner Darkly.

Hitchhiking in New Zealand

Kim and I bought a car online and had to travel from Whangamata to Levin to pick it up. Just to make things interesting we decided to hitchhike – in the middle of winter, across the highest and coldest part of the North Island of New Zealand, the Desert Road. The 511km trip took two days.

John picked us up at just after 8am in Whangamata and gave us a lift to Waihi. He’s lived in Whangamata for 4-5 years after moving there from his farm. We passed the farm on the way and John told us he’d just sold it. His son had been managing it but can’t afford to buy it so now he’s out of a job. John is helping him get a quarrying business going on a corner of the old farm and was on his way to the hardware store to get some equipment so they can get the new 10 ton hammer crusher going.

Then a man from Blackpool who has been living in NZ for about 15 years gave us a lift from Waihi to Paeroa. He seemed to approve of what we were doing with our lives, and told told us that he used to run his own business in the UK until he had a nervous breakdown at the age of 35. Now he says he concentrates on what’s important – enjoying what he’s doing and keeping healthy. He said that money isn’t nearly as important as people think it is and he enjoys working in an op shop.

After a long, long wait in Paeroa, Ruby stopped and gave us a lift to Te Aroha. She was in her 50s and had just been to the gym – maybe having tired muscles explained her slightly wonky driving. I had a bit of a problem understanding her as she spoke very quietly and had a thick Maori/country accent. She knew of Kim’s parents – Te Aroha is a small town.

We were only waiting in Te Aroha for a few minutes. A young man had seen us waiting in Paeroa but didn’t pick us up there as he had a few errands to run first. Seeing us again in Te Aroha he pulled over and took us to Hamilton. He warned us that the vehicle might not last the distance as he was taking it in to have more work done on it – apparently you should never buy an Isuzu Trooper. On the other hand, he did like owning a 4WD as he could take his family to the forest in it. You could tell it was a real four wheel drive becuase it had mud both inside and out.

Shayna stopped in Hamilton because she thought Kim looked cold wrapped up in her green woollen blanket. Her kids are all grown up now and we encouraged her to go ahead with her plans to travel to China for four months. She dropped us off at an intersection in the middle of nowhere – but still on State Highway 1 so getting another lift wouldn’t be a problem.

Kim hitching.

Car number 29 was Henry’s little red Mitsubishi FTO sportscar. He’d already been from Napier to Auckland that day and was on his way back. A man of few words and a loud stereo, I did discover that he thinks that James Brown’s first album was the best. Henry is also a trusting type and left us in the car with the keys while he went for a toilet stop in Putaruru. He dropped us off in Taupo where after waiting for half an hour and, getting steadily colder, we decided to stay for a bath and the night.

The next morning we didn’t have to wait long in Taupo before a woman stopped for us. She was on her way to from Rotorua to Waiouru to pick up a relative. It was her day off from working in one of the resorts just south of Rotorua. We discussed how hard it is to learn a new language and how most tourists thankfully speak at least a little English.

Waiouru was cold cold COLD! The wind was being chilled by a snow-covered and very impressive Mt Ruapehu to the north. Luckily Matt in car number 12 took pity on us and stopped – after all, he’s done a lot of hitch-hiking himself. He was on his way to Palmerston North for a funeral and I made a mental note not to tell him to “have a nice day” when he dropped us off. Matt and his wife came back last year from spending five years overseas in the UK, Europe, South America and Asia. Apparently it took him a bit of time to adjust to living in the same country as his family again – he had to keep spending time with them. He dropped us off in Shannon and there wasn’t much further for us to go.

Matthias was an older German man in a campervan. His son failed to get into university six months ago and decided to go traveling in New Zealand instead, and Matthias came over to spend a few weeks with him and see around New Zealand a little bit himself. Apparently his son has taken advantage of the low male:female ratio amongst German backpackers and has hooked up with a girl from home. Matthias took the chance to ask a local some of the questions he had about his travels in New Zealand, such as whether we’d always had lots of Maori place names (yes) or was it a new trend (no).

And then we were in Levin to buy the car from Jim and Molly. They’ve been in New Zealand for 10 months and chose Levin because Molly got a job as a doctor there. Jim just took the time off and looked after their young child. I guess they couldn’t have liked it here too much as they’re heading back to Seattle the next day. I bet they were glad to get the cash for their car before they left!

On the way home we resolved to pick up any hitchhikers we saw – it just seemed the karmically correct thing to do. We’d given up on seeing any as it was getting dark and rainy, and then north of Taupo I just spotted a shape at the side of the road. Sharon seemed far too young to be on her way to visit her daughter in Tokoroa. We dropped her off in the rain and headed home in our new vehicle.

The car!